Having spent nine jam-packed days full of cross-country driving out West: Colorado, Wyoming, Yellowstone, the Badlands, I found that the West was truly worth all that effort the pioneers put in hucking across country and eating each other to get to it.I loved everything about my experience, finding myself more often than not completely lost in the wonder and sweeping grandeur of the forever winding mountains, the miles of undeveloped land and how wild everything seemed. I couldn’t have loved the West more … except … except for that one day when I hated it.
My friends and I had decided to do a measly (I say measly because that’s what I so arrogantly thought at the time) four-mile hike in Yellowstone. We had done our research, and by we I of course mean my friend Diana who hikes the Rockies pretty much for a living, and decided on Bunsen Peak. Bunsen Peak is nearly 9,000 feet in elevation, not that I knew or even understood that this would impact me in any way. My friend who lives in the Midwest had warned us that the first time she had visited Denver (which was our first stopping point of the trip) she had gotten sick when adjusting to the altitude in the Mile High City.
I had my own bout of weird dizziness the first night we spent in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it was quickly cleared with some dramamine, so the hike to Bunsen Peak was not worrying me. Again, I was cocky. I hiked all the time, I told myself. I biked constantly. I have been losing weight lately like it’s my job, so a little four-mile-mountain hike? Bring. It. On.
I had my water backpack all loaded up with two liters. I noshed on some ham and nuts before the hike. I drank several bottles of water. This thing would be a breeze.
It was not a breeze.
I do not know why this hike was one of the most horrifying that I have done, but I hated every minute.
On bloody Bunsen Peak, I groused internally almost from the get-go. Everyone seemed to be going faster than me and the incline had me gasping for breath almost immediately. I wondered how my friends didn’t need stopping breaks to merely breathe and how they continued to plow up the mountainside when only minutes in, I wanted to turn around.
But of course I didn’t because I am stubborn and full of need to prove how tough I am. So I powered on even though my friends gained more and more ground ahead of me, and then would do pretend slow-downs which were actually pity stops while I fought back tears over the fact that this stupid mountain was beating me down with every step up.
Every twist and turn weaving higher up the mountainside made me angrier and angrier at how difficult this stupid hike was. I was furious. Livid. Raw with hatred over my body being so lousy. I was supposed to be fit. I was working out all the time lately. OK, not all the time, but really quite a lot, almost daily. I just rode my bike nearly 40 miles. I had been on a weight-loss television show where I worked out eight hours a day for crying out loud! And I was the last in the group. What really chafed was the fact that my friend, Emily, basically counted her shopping at Target as cardio and routinely pointed out her non-athleticism and even she was going up the mountain faster than me.
I had to hold back complete and utter tantrum-like hysteria to save face, though my mute rage wasn’t very subtle. By the time we reached the top, I wasn’t even relieved to bask in the views and rest my lungs and legs, I was simply hostile. The last time I had this kind of reaction to working out was on a similar mountain hike in the Shenandoah with my sister where I got slightly overwrought over how difficult the eight-mile hike to the top of the mountain was. But once at the top, all my discomfort disappeared.
This did not happen this time. I merely silently took in the admittedly phenomenal landscape of mountaintops, valleys of green and s-shaped rivers while swatting at bugs buzzing around my face. Going down was obviously much better for my psyche until about three-quarters of the way down I began to get a headache, which despite glugging my two-liters of water was only intensifying with every step. Upon reaching the car, I realized I hadn’t planned for how much I would sweat on the hike (which was the equivalent of two beefy football players after a championship game) and I needed to refuel on sodium. I chugged a Gatorade before we took a dip in a nearby watering hole dubbed The Boiling River. I sat steaming in the thermal waters with sheer relief at being done with Bunsen.
The long drive back to our campsite—over an hour away through winding roads of Yellowstone—brought my headache back with a vengeance. By the time we reached our tent I was dry-heaving with pain pulsing through my temples. I laid down in the tent only to wake up a few hours later gagging from the heat in the tent and the pain in my head. I stumbled to the campgrounds bathroom only to collapse on the ground and throw up a whole lot of red, a whole lot of times. I promptly panicked thinking I was dying of dysentery or something and Bunsen Peak was slowly killing me long after I was done with it.
Until I remembered the Gatorade. The puking helped the situation, though. I was now sufficiently shaken up over mountain hikes, not just as a point of pride that they were difficult for me, but clearly because like the 40-mile-biking incident, I should’ve perhaps planned more for: the elevation, my extreme man-like sweating tendencies, the fact that I had eaten two slices of ham and a handful of nuts before a hefty workout excursion. Or even the fact that despite my high regard for my new-found athleticism I am not yet John Muir. It is OK for me to aspire to that, but there is no need for me to pretend I am a fitness goddess. It is OK for me to admit I am not perfect. Or cry on a mountainside. Or throw up afterwards.
All those things are OK, because not every journey to health and fitness is going to be some blissed out soul-stirring awakening. Some of the moments are going to be wretched puke-fests that you honestly hate, perhaps missing out on the incredible surrounding views while you stew in your rage over how hard it all is, but after, well after you’ll realize how much of a warrior you truly are for continuing up the mountainside anyway.